Gakuen Alice 3 by Tachibana Higuchi: B+

gakuen3From the back cover:
The school cultural festival is approaching, and the special guest is Reo, a former Alice student turned Hollywood superstar! But Reo is involved in some awfully shady dealings, and when his plans suddenly start to involve Natsume, it’s up to Mikan and Sumire to save the day!

I never thought I’d be giving a B+ to something featuring a school festival and a kidnapping perpetrated by a bishounen idol, but there you go. I guess I’m just a sucker for the combination of ominous facts about the Academy and warm, fuzzy friendship scenes between its students that this volume offers.

It helps that Higuchi uses these silly scaffoldings to reveal more about Natsume’s situation at the school. Being classified as a “dangerous” ability-type means that he’s prohibited from participating in the festival, and even as Mikan is orchestrating something that the “special” type can do to show the other students that they aren’t rejects, she’s aware of Natsume’s exclusion. Later, after she and snobby classmate Sumire have gotten themselves kidnapped while trying to save him, she overhears the kidnappers talking about Natsume’s tragic background and the real reason the dangerous class exists: to do the Academy’s dirty work.

My favorite chapter, though, is mostly fluffy. Mean Professor Snape Jinno denies Mikan a visit to Hogsmeade Central Town, an area on the Alice Academy grounds full of shops owned by Alice artisans, but manages to wrangle permission and then puts on a street performance to earn enough money to buy some candy. Put like that, it’s lame, but when she gives the leftovers of her candy to Narumi-sensei to give to her grandfather when he sees him, it means that she’s decided to trust him (despite the warnings from other students that no adult is trustworthy) when he says he’s going to contact her grandfather and let him know that Mikan is okay.

As we learn more about the Academy, Narumi-sensei’s urgings for Mikan to make friends, and how these friends will be her strongest allies at the school, take on a new meaning. We get a nice contrast between scenes where Mikan and Sumire finally seem to have become friends and scenes where Natsume is being urged to do his “duty,” suggesting that this band of kids might be called upon at some point to mount a rebellion. Interesting stuff, indeed!

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